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Fred Anderson: The Milwaukee Tapes Vol. 1

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Some 1960s free-jazz players had the technique and harmonic knowledge to play post-bop music well; others didn’t, not knowing enough about harmony and, while they were skilled at honking, screaming and using multiphonics, their conventional chops were rudimentary to the point where they couldn’t swing. Now there are plenty of examples of musicians who were great free jazzmen, e.g., Albert Ayler, whose technical ability and harmonic knowledge was limited. One doesn’t have to play post-bop music well to excel at free jazz. On the other hand, being a solid all-around musician, who has good overall command of his instrument and a knowledge of chord progressions is an asset to those who play free jazz, as saxophonist Fred Anderson’s work demonstrates.

Anderson, a Chicagoian born in 1937, almost certainly had experience playing bop and post-bop music prior to getting into free jazz, and he still plays it very well. He was a co-founder of the AACM in the mid-1960s, and appeared on Joseph Jarman’s Song for Delmark LP, on which he plays very well-though he doesn’t get enough solo room. From the late ’60s until the 1990s, however, he rarely recorded, putting in a lot of time as a club owner, which he still is, of The Velvet Lounge. Anderson continued to play, however, and in recent years has recorded more frequently.

The Milwaukee Tapes, recorded in 1980, features Anderson with his long-time associate trumpeter Billy Brimfield, bassist Larry Hayrod and the brilliant drummer Hamid Drake. This is not a free-jazz date; it features five varied and impressive compositions by Anderson and Drake and contains solos based on preset structures. Brimfield plays superbly. He was on Song For, too, but where has he been lately? His articulation is crisp and clean; he produces a bright, attractive tone; plays well in all registers; and improvises rich, complex lines. Most importantly, he’s original. His playing has something in common with Don Cherry, and Miles Davis’ work between 1965 and 1968, but he’s his own man. Anderson’s also a unique stylist, whose playing here at times resembles Sonny Rollins’, John Coltrane’s and Booker Ervin’s, but it is ultimately singular. He turns in hard-swinging but nicely paced solos, and develops his ideas well. He’s got a hard, penetrating tone that works well with his angular lines.